Frugality Reigns

The December issue of The Atlantic Monthly has an interesting article about pinching pennies entitled “The Frugal Divorcee.”

The author talks about how saving money literally and by careful shopping, etc., is pretty hot right now. Basically, her last paragraph sums up the story: “The whole country, I suspect, is in for a long exercise in tunnel digging. If we’re to avoid despair, we’re going to have to learn to substitute consolations for indulgences, and we’re going to have to gird ourselves for a life defined largely by small, mean, quotidian struggles.”

Being frugal is good advice in your business, too. Careful planning, careful spending and careful expansion are keys to success.

Until next time,

Sarah

Keeping Focused

Have you ever started a task and then been distracted, only to realize an hour or so later that the first task remained unfinished? If this sounds familiar, check out “Warning: Your Attention is Under Siege.”

The article provides four tips on how to stay focused admist our busy lives, whether it’s work-related or home-related. First, do your most important work first thing in the morning. For me, if I get dinner in the slow cooker after breakfast, usually the rest of my day goes much better.

Second, answer email once or twice a day–then don’t check it or look at in between those times. Hard, yes. Worth it? You betcha.

Third, take breathers throughout the day. Even five or 10 minutes of quiet or, if you have small children, standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes while your mind wanders, can restore your sanity.

Fourth, set aside a half hour a day for reading or journaling. Disconnect from the computer and other electronic devices for that time and rejuvenate your mind.

Until next time,

Sarah

Tools for the Business

Most small businesses need computing tools to run their businesses, but those tools can be costly. “5 Awesome Free Tools for Small Businesses” in PC World lists, well, five computing tools that can be used for free.

For example, business apps from Google are available for free for companies with under 50 employees and offer free email services for those businesses with a few, minor restrictions. Dropbox gives businesses the ability to store files remotely and securely, enabling multiple users to access the same data.

Microsoft Security Essentials provides free antivirus protection for small businesses, with some limitations. Linux for your file servers provides free service, although there may be a learning curve. Go-OO office suite gives users free software similar to Microsoft Office.

I’m sure there are more options out there for small businesses, from free software and trials to security measures. It’s nice to know that some things in life still are, after all, free.

Until next time,

Sarah

Tweeting for Success

Twitter can be a great tool for small businesses, like home-based businesses, but knowning how best to use Twitter can be the difference between tweet success and not developing a following.

Are You Headed for a Twitter Chernobyl?” on BNet outlines five ways small businessses can use Twitter to successfully market their products. First, don’t always sell something. Second, keep your tweets at a minimum. Third, keep Twitter separate from Facebook. Fourth, don’t neglect your Twitter account. Fifth, keep up with security on your account.

Following these simple steps can help you use Twitter to your business’s best advantage.

Until next time,

Sarah

Small Businesses Upbeat About Next Year

A new survey finds that small business owners and operators are feeling good about 2011, Reuters reports. In “Survey says small businesses upbeat about 2011,” 73 percent of small business respondents think their business will expand during the next year. Close to 40 percent had a “positive” outlook for the next 12 months.

“They see the darkness behind them and looking forward they see some light,” said Eric Groves, Constant Contact’s senior vice president of global market development. Constant Contact conducted the survey.

I wonder if this optimism spills over to home-based businesses. If you have a home-based business, I’d love to hear what you think next year will bring. Email me at the contact tab.

Until next time,

Sarah

Payment Options

Whether you have an online store or showcase your wares at festivals, deciding what form of payment to accept can become a sticky situation. Even freelance or contract workers could be faced with a choice of payment methods, such via PayPal instead of a company check. (If you are paid in cash for contract or freelance work, keep careful records of those payments because you’ll need to report that as part of your income for tax purposes.)

My November At Home News covers how to pick the right payment option for your home-based business. To sign up for the free, monthly e-newsletter, click on the Newsletter tab.

Until next time,

Sarah

Slow Cookers: Time Savers and Delicious Meals

Most of us like ways to save time and money all at the same time. With the weather getting colder, using a slow cooker once or twice a week for savory soups, stews and a host of other delicious and easy recipes can be a time saver and an easy way to make dinner.

In a recent survey, the NPD Group found that the use of slow cookers grew 36 percent between 1998 and 2008 (used for 1 percent of main meals last year). NPD projects that their usage will grow by 16 percent between 2008 and 2018.

Slow cookers save time by allowing you to make dinner ahead of time when you have the time. I often get the meal ready for the slow cooker while cleaning up the breakfast or lunch dishes. Some slow cookers even come with timers so you can set it up in the morning and come home from work to a hot meal.

Slow cookers also save money by taking tougher–and cheaper–cuts of meat and turning it into fall-off-the-bone tender and delicious. Chuck and arm roasts, spare ribs and other cuts of beef, lamb and pork can be turned into great-tasting meals. I also use my slow cooker to cook an entire chicken for a quick and easy meal.

There are many slow cooker cookbooks out there. My personal favorite is the Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes.

So break out your slow cooker and make dinner work for you and your schedule. If you don’t have a slow cooker, now’s the perfect time to either buy one for yourself (with all the holiday sales starting) or put it on your wish list.

Until next time,

Sarah

Some Tax Tips You Should Do Now

Taxes are not something most of us want to think about at all, much less months before the April 15 deadline. But with a bit of planning, you could end of saving on your tax bill.

In “Tax planning is Crucial for Startups,” the author lists several ways small businesses–and home-based businesses–can get a jumpstart on getting a handle on their taxes. For example, startup costs can be tax deductible and cover advertising and market research, among other things. Keep all your receipts relating to your business in one file to make it easier to find come tax time. Remember that income taxes are pay-as-you-go, meaning you’ll need to estimate quarterly taxes to keep in good standing with the IRS.

The article also lists some webinars and other online resources for tax newbies.

Until next time,

Sarah

Keeping the Email Monster Under Control

I receive between thirty and fifty emails a day and sometimes more, mostly related to my freelance writing business. Checking email can become a time-consuming process. CNN posted “Don’t let email run your work life” about how to take back control over your email.

The article quoted from a new study that found the amount of email doesn’t matter so much as what you do with that email. By using filtering technology and fighting off the pressure to respond quickly, email can become less of a stress and more of a helpful part of your work life.

Until next time,

Sarah

Working Away From Home

If you’ve ever needed a place to work away from home, you now have another option besides the local Starbucks or Panera Bread. A new service called DeskNear.Me provides locations where you can rent a desk for between $10 and $20 a day–not a bad price, considering the “cost” of free WiFi often requires the purchase of food or drink to occupy a table for any length of time. DeskNear.Me has a searchable database with companies that offer desk space.

Until next time,

Sarah